Rock Hill, the people who make up the place, got a chance to see what $32 million of their money in one place looks like Saturday. That is the cost of the city's smashing new Operations Center on Anderson Road - $32 million.
Hundreds of people showed up, and what they saw is a big, new, state-of-the-art, ecologically friendly building. It has fuel pumps for natural gas to run vehicles, biodiesel pumps to run vehicles, and electricity-charging stations to run vehicles. A guy from the city talked about alternative fuels, and he started his speech with, "I might be long-winded about alternative fuels."
I fled as fast as I could walk, to where real people who paid for this building talked about paying the light bill each month. Around the building, person after person said as they walked through this building that they paid for with taxes and fees for electricity and so much else, that the building is great.
A group of ladies did the Electric Slide dance in the parking lot. People got free bags and hats and stuff, including free hot dogs. But it really wasn't free, as the money for everything comes from the city residents and customers who buy the electricity and pay for the garbage pickup and all the rest.
Politicians and bureaucrats decided to spend the people's $32 million. The operations center will house many departments, including water and sewer, utilities, and parks, tourism and recreation.
One of the people who arrived Saturday to see where his money goes is a retiree named Howard Green Sr. His grandson is a city utility worker.
"A pole climber - he fixes the power in the ice storms and the rest," said Green. "I seen him work two days straight in ice storms and snow. He's a horse."
It was mentioned to Howard Green, who worked all his life, that he and the rest of the city's population paid for the new building.
"Thirty-two million?" asked Green. "That's a lotta money. Seems like a lot of money for a building."
It sure is.
There is no doubt the city outgrew the old, tired, undersized Columbia Avenue operations center. Mayor Doug Echols told people the city knows there has been, and still is, a downturn in the economy, but the new building is "progress." The fuels save money and energy and the environment.
The building is new and therefore much cheaper to run. The city needed the building for its future.
Echols led the charge to build this building. His name is on a bronze plaque at the front door, along with other politicians who decided to spend all this money that came from the purses and wallets of the people.
But the new building cost $32 million of money in a city that has at least 20 percent poverty, unemployment as high as almost anywhere in the state and nation. It was built in a city that has a police station and city court so overcrowded that hearings are held at tables in a hallway sometimes.
I brought up the $32 million to dozens of people who were touring the place to see what they thought. Many said it was a good investment. Others said what working people say, or retired people say, when the number $32 million dollars is mentioned.
"That's a lot of money," said a retired lady named Diane Hope.
Hope lives in the city. I mentioned to her that she paid for the building.
"That's a lot of money," she said, again.
Another lady said she has lived in the city since 1956. Her utility bill used to be around $26 a month. Now she is 81 years old, on a fixed income of Social Security, a widow, and her bill is more than $100 a month.
She ate not one free hot dog, but two. As a rate-payer for city utilities, she paid for the hot dogs so she paid for her free lunch.
Manning exhibits and just being friendly to the public were dozens, even hundreds, of city workers.
It is a fact these people have not received a raise in years, in this rotten economy. Not a single worker complained Saturday, although I sure brought it up over and over. They have kids and families at home. They smiled and helped because that is the job.
A sewer worker named Steve Hawkensen greeted people in the parking lot and pointed them to the entrance. He smiled and was terrific. He is 29 years old, and his job is to dig in mud and yes, sewers, so that people of his city can have sewer service. Management in his department get offices in the new, nice building. He, who works for a living, has an office of a trench in mud.
Other men and women - so many working men with city jackets that had their names stitched on them, over the heart, answered questions and manned booths. Cops and firemen talked to kids because kids want to grow up to be cops and firemen, not bureaucrats or pencil-pushers.
Tashika Baxter brought her two sons into the police trailer. The boys, Jason and Justin, met three cops and the cops showed that cops in Rock Hill are there to serve and protect.
Tashika Baxter said she is thankful for cops who protect her and her family.
It was mentioned that the building she was going into across the parking lot, which handles such departments as water and sewer, cost $32 million.
She was asked if it seemed worth it.
"I hope so," she said. "I paid for it."